Run Time by S.B. Divya is an ambitious science fiction novel from Tor.com Books. Before you think, “here we go again” with the young-adult dystopian story about a young girl struggling to survive in a dark future, take note that this one is a little different. Okay, maybe it is about a young girl struggling to survive in a dark future, but I wouldn’t quite put in the dystopian category. By incorporating relevant issues of today, Run Time is more of a cultural examination of a slightly twisted future that pushes the envelope of social dilemmas.
Marmeg Guinto is a bright young girl who is determined to rise from the poverty instilled on those born “unlicensed” and unable to qualify for basic needs like free education and healthcare. While working at a local club as a bouncer, Marmeg has cobbled together some “embed gear” using refurbished and outdated body enhancing equipment, a kind of exoskeleton connected via neural implant chips that will help her compete in an upcoming race called the Minerva Sierra Challenge. If she could win, it would mean a much brighter future for her and her brother Jeffy who has been struggling socially since leaving the military.
Against all odds – and against her mother’s wishes, Marmeg enters the race and competes against runners with much newer and more enhanced embed gear thanks to financial corporate sponsorships. Along the way, she discovers there are some racers she can trust and others she cannot. Marmeg also discovers the truth behind a secret organization known as Mountain Mike who are intent on surviving off the grid and independent of government tyranny.
Marmeg Guinto is an interesting character who readers can enjoy seeing grow as the story develops. Though her determination is well intended and admirable for such a young hero, her charming naivety brings authenticity to her young persona and helps establish realism for the other characters she encounters.
The dialogue is a bit awkward at times as some of the younger characters often use variants of slang including gender designations, but it seems to fit well in this unique future. The language is not quite over the top like that found in Anthony Burgess’ dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange. It comes off more like the dialect an older citizen (such as myself) may encounter with today’s youths.
Many of the social and economic issues described in Run Time reflect some of the same political issues making headlines today. Educational costs, health care, social segregation, citizenship, and even the financial difficulties of middle and lower class appear in this world future. Filled with so many modern topics that hit this close to home, it does give readers something to think about long after the last page is turned.
Run Time is NOT your typical dystopian novel. At a slight 116 pages in length, it is a quick read with a lot of story packed inside. A bright new voice in science fiction, this debut novel by S.B. Divya brings notice to the young adult reader audience while carrying high expectations for any future works.